How to Handle Conflict within Your Executive Team
You’ve chosen members of your executive team for their passion, their intelligence and their independent thinking. At some point, it’s probably inevitable that one strong-willed member of the team will butt heads with another over a particular initiative or course of action.
Ideally, the two conflicting parties should be able to come to a resolution on their own. But in situations where that proves impossible, what should you do? Here are tips gleaned from discussion among members of our Catapult Groups:
- Deal with the issue head-on. Any conflict that’s allowed to fester (in the hopes it will blow over) is likely to only get worse. Taking prompt action can prevent any long-lasting damage, particularly to the executives’ relationship with each other. Use your high-level communications skills sooner rather than later, to resolve the problem.
- Stay calm and listen. If you must get involved as a mediator in the conflict, avoid the temptation to side with one person over the other. (More importantly, don’t allow your personal attitude toward the people involved compromise your neutrality.) If both parties feel strongly about a specific issue, they probably each have a compelling case to make. This is where your listening skills come in. Let the individuals state their case. Gather the facts. Most importantly, stay calm. By keeping a cool head and not getting drawn into emotional arguments, you demonstrate key leadership qualities.
- Have a clear-cut direction in place. Sometimes disagreements between executive team members arise because your organization’s direction is unclear. As long as the vision and mission are clearly defined, you can guide the executives toward addressing their problem within the context of the bigger picture—the ultimate success of the business.
- Keep personalities out of your decision. A dispute affecting your business should not be decided based on which of the two executives is more likeable or who can out-talk (or shout louder than) the other. The merits of each person’s argument must be the determining factor in your final judgment.
- Introduce a mediator. If disputes between members of the executive team are chronic and ongoing, consider enlisting the services of a trained mediator. This can be a skilled, high-level HR person or someone brought in from the outside. During the mediation sessions, the “warring sides” have a safe place to examine the underlying issues they have with each other.
Following resolution of the conflict, it’s your job to help your executive team move forward. Grudges or other long-lasting resentments have no place in a high-performing executive team. Smiling and greeting both individuals in a consistently friendly manner should help reduce tensions and demonstrate the value of working together for the good of the business.
If you’re ready to ready to join other CEOs, managers and senior-level executives in a confidential group setting—where you’ll be challenged and rewarded like never before in your professional life—we invite you to learn more about becoming a Catapult Group member today.